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Regularly creating a meal plan is one of the most important routines you can develop in your life, particularly if you want to enjoy a real food lifestyle.
Meal planning is vital because…
- A meal plan offer us a guide for how to use the ingredients we purchase. Without a plan, we oftentimes have good intentions–buying a head of kale or lettuce, or picking up a pound of ground beef–but it’s easy for life to takeover during the week, which means we forget about the food we purchased on Saturday. It’s also important to note that this guide is flexible. Just because a meal is planned for Monday night, doesn’t mean I can’t make it on Tuesday (and make Tuesday’s meal on Monday).
- A meal plan helps us be strategic in the way we use ingredients, which saves money and helps us be responsible consumers. For example, if I plan to make hash with kale and potatoes for breakfast on a weekend, I can plan to put the remaining kale leaves to use later in the week. Without a plan, those extra kale leaves would probably rot in the back of my fridge.
- A meal plan simplifies life. Once we have a plan in place for a set period of time, we no longer need to think about food during this time. Sure, we need to prepare and cook (or whatever the plan may call for), but we don’t have to waste our precious brainpower figuring out what to eat each day or how to use ingredients.
I used to struggle with creating a meal plan because I didn’t know what to actually put on my plan. Each week I would sit down to a blank calendar and my mind would go blank. This would result in hours of looking through cookbooks and magazines, reading each recipe, and trying to figure out what I wanted to make. A Favorite Meals List was my solution to ending this painful, frustrating cycle. This list helped me simplify the act of meal planning and reduced the amount of time I spent trying to come up with meal ideas.
Let’s talk about how to create your own list, and then how to use this list to simplify your meal planning time.
How to Create a Favorite Meals List& Simplify Meal Planning
1. Gather Ideas
Gather your family together and ask, “What are your favorite foods/meals?” Based on your family’s suggestions, create a list of favorite meals. Hamburgers? Chicken salad? Scrambled eggs? Burrito bowls? Write down each suggestion. Do you have a favorite recipe from Pinterest that you regularly make? Awesome, write it down. Is Grandma’s famous breakfast casserole a huge hit with your family? Great, write it down.
Also, these ideas don’t have to be formal (written) recipes. They can be more ideas if you prefer and feel comfortable cooking this way: stir fry, burgers, hardboiled eggs, toast, veggie soup, quesadillas, etc.
2. Create a Favorite Meals List
Now it’s time to take your rough draft notes and create a more polished list that you can regularly use to build a meal plan. I recommend writing down the following information on your list: recipe name, source, page (if the recipe comes from a printed source). If the recipe is found on a blog, write down the blog name under the source information, or the Pinterest Board where the recipe can be found. If you don’t want to keep a paper list, then use your Notes App or a document on your computer to store this information. The goal is creating a list that you can refer to over and over again. The way you do this is completely up to you.
The goal is to create a list of 15-30 recipes (or ideas) that you can regularly rotate. This number, for me, includes both breakfast and dinner ideas. (I keep a separate list for kid lunchbox ideas.)
The recipes added to your list should fit your current lifestyle. If you work full-time and don’t have the time to make dinners that require 1-2 hours of prep, then it’s probably not ideal to include these as options on your list. You may want to include a small section at the bottom of your list titled, “Special Favorites.” <–These are meals you could include on your meal plan on the weekend (when you have more time to spend in the kitchen) or for a special dinner party or a family birthday.
If you’d like to add variety to your meal plan with new meals, I recommend keeping a separate list (I call my list, Recipes to Try) with meal ideas from Pinterest, cookbooks, magazines, and blogs. When you feel the need to spice things up, take a look at this list and add a new recipe to your meal plan. If you try a new recipe and your family loves it, add it to your Favorite Meals List.
Tip: If you don’t have that many favorite meals right now, it’s okay! I recommend keeping your eyes open for new recipes to try. When you try a new recipe or meal idea, and it’s well received, add it your Favorite Meals List. Think of your Favorite Meals List as an on-going list rather than a one-time creation. The more you cook, the more meals you’ll be able to add to your Favorite Meals List.
How to Use a Favorite Meals List& Simplify Meal Planning
Set aside a certain time each week to meal plan, and mark this time on your calendar. When it’s time to sit down and create your plan, pull out your list. Use this list to build your meal plan. I also like to take into consideration what’s in my fridge, freezer, and pantry. For example: If I have chicken breasts in my freezer, I’ll choose a meal from my list that uses chicken breasts for one night. If I have a ton of oats, I’ll choose breakfast options from my list that use oats (usually just oatmeal and fruit, or overnight oats).
At this point, I know what ingredients are needed to create the meals on my list. In the beginning, or if you have a long list, you may need to look back (that’s where the source information comes in handy) to create a grocery list. The more you use this list to create your meal plans, the easier the act of meal planning will be.
Creating a Favorite Meals List does require an upfront time investment, but this time is well worth the benefits. Once you’ve created your initial list, you’ll just need to add new meals that you love to the list (remember, it’s an on-going list). Over time, you’ll have quite the list to pull from and rotate within your weekly meal plans. Meal plans that will only take you a few minutes to create because you’re showing up to your meal planning time with tried-and-true ideas and recipes.
If you’re looking for more ways to simplify meal planning, I shared a few more ideas over here.